Saturday, September 6, 2014

Book Review: Antibodies

Book Review: 'Antibodies' by David J. Skal

2 / 5 Stars

'Antibodies' (220 pp.) was first published in hardcover in 1988; this paperback version was released by Worldwide Library in April, 1989, one of the books in the 'Isaac Asimov Presents' imprint. 

The cover illustration is uncredited, but is almost certainly by Vincent DiFate.

'Antibodies' is one of three sf novels published by David J. Skal in the 1980s, the others being 'Scavengers' (1980) and 'When We Were Good' (1981). All received critical acclaim, but Skal discontinued writing fiction after 'Antibodies', and instead concentrated on film history and criticism, particularly horror films.

'Antibodies' is a satirical novel, set in San Francisco in a near-future USA, in which 80s consumerism and pop culture pervade every aspect of life for those who are white and affluent. Lead character Diandra (we are never told her last name) is a young woman who works as a fashion designer for Croesus, an upscale clothing store associated with all that is trendy in fashion and art.

Diandra suffers from alienation, not just from society, but from her family, and from humanity in general. Luckily for Diandra, she has been contacted by an underground cult called the Cybernetic Temple. The cult has no physical presence per se, but rather, dispenses its doctrine via videocassette tapes filled with subliminal messages, and carefully managed social gatherings in which participants dress as exotic androids and eat a tasteless nutritional paste designed to promote their identification as 'artificial' persons.

The Cybernetic Temple has gained considerable notoriety by promulgating a theology that is the complete antithesis of humanism: the human body, and its functions, emotions, and morals, is little more than 'meat' doomed to gradual decay and dissolution. The Temple offers its acolytes access to new, cutting-edge technologies for organ replacement and, by extension, immortality.

As 'Antibodies' opens, Diandra is struggling to survive her final day at work, before leaving for the Central American enclave of Boca Verde, where the Temple's state-of-the-art facility will remake her as a cyborg, visually perfect, and immune to the sorrows and indignities of the flesh.

As the novel unfolds, we are introduced to a cast of California eccentrics, all of whom interact either with Diandra and the Temple. Some of these eccentrics, like the egomaniacal cult 'deprogrammer' Julian Nagy, see the Cybernetic Temple as an abomination that must be eliminated - particularly if so doing brings fame and fortune. 

Others, such as the artist and style dictator Venus Tramhell, are advocates for the Temple and ruthless in promoting its goals....which are quite different from those that the naive Diandra has been conditioned to believe.......

The back-cover marketing blurbs for 'Antibodies' describe it as a collage of ideas and concepts from David Cronenberg, Harlan Ellison, and J. G. Ballard, and to some extent, this is true, particularly in light of the inclusion of some splatterpunk scenes that counterbalance the satirical passages that take up much of the narrative.

However, sf novels that successfully pull off the trick of embracing satire for their entire length are few and far between, including those in the sub-genre of humorous sf, and the works of Ron Goulart and Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, all of which I have found underwhelming, if not tedious. And while I consider 'Antibodies' to be superior to anything from those authors, even at only 220 pp. in length, I found the plot beginning to tire by the time the final 30 pages unraveled.

'Antibodies' does succeed at mingling cyberpunk-era sf and social satire, and is worth picking up if you are a fan of either genre. But it remains very much a product of the time and place of the late 80s, and I'm not sure contemporary readers would find it particularly appealing.

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